John Larson of Mormon Expression did a book review of Mormon Enigma by Linda Newell and Valeen Avery. John gives a very interesting introduction to the book. In light of my recent post Latter-day Dissent, I thought I would continue the theme of how the church deals with intellectuals.
This book was published in the fall of 1984. There sort of a back story to it.Both of the women who wrote the book were faithful, active members. One has passed away; the other is still alive today. They both still remain active members of the church. There was sort of a controversy around the book. A priesthood circular went all, I think all through Utah telling all priesthood leaders that they were not allowed to have either woman speak about the book in any setting.
At the time, during the 1980’s there was the “Know Your Religion” series, and it was really common to have firesides about people who knew something about something or the other. They got stopped immediately. The two women actually requested and were granted a meeting with the top brass; they met with [Dallin] Oaks and [Neal A.] Maxwell [both were apostles]. This would be around the early summer of 1985.
The meeting went back and forth. What was really confusing to the authors is that they remained members in good standing, although there were rumors going around that they would be excommunicated or whatever, but they were never told anything. That went out into that sort of secret circular letter and they only knew about it because they had friends who were stake presidents who shared it with them. When they met with the Brethren, they said ‘what’s going on?’
Oaks said something very informative. I pulled this out of Dialogue magazine. “If Mormon Enigma reveals any information that is detrimental to the reputation of Joseph Smith then it is necessary to try to”–I can’t read my own writing–to try to, I think “stop it’s influence and that of its authors.” They basically said, it doesn’t matter if what you are saying is true or not, if you’re going to say something that’s outside the normal line, we don’t want you talking about it.
Of course the authors were blacklisted. You can read about the blacklisting in Arrington’s book, Adventures of a Church Historian. He talks about it quite extensively. The church maintains a blacklist of all the books and authors that are not allowed to be quoted. This effectively ruined the two women’s careers for speaking or engaging with the active Latter-day Saints, although you can still buy this book through Deseret Book. It remains sort of an enigma itself, so I guess that’s fitting for the book.
That’s the background of the book. Zilpha’s wagging something in my face. What’s this?
Oh yeah, the book won several awards. In 1984 it won an award from the Mormon History Association for best book. It also won an award from BYU, which sort of put the church in a bind because they had recognized it as a great book and then they were stopping it at the same time.
This sort of action really bothers me. As I mentioned in my previous post, I would like to start writing Mormon history articles and/or books. I’m looking to write good, honest history. This blacklisting just seems a bit sneaky and dishonest to me. I don’t think the rumors about these 2 women’s reputation is fair or Christlike. It’s as if the church is saying in a Jack Nicholson voice, “You can’t handle the truth.”
Why can’t we be honest with our history? Is it really a good idea to suppress unflattering information? None of us are perfect. Joseph and Emma weren’t either. Is it really good to believe in whitewashed myths about them? Can’t truth be inspiring as well?